Shooting my depression

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In 2004, and again in 2005, I had two major surgeries. I don’t know if I suffered depression as a result of the anaesthetic, the ill health that preceded it, or if it was just my time and my turn. I mean, one in three of us is going to get at some point. But, I got through it, without any therapy type help and with only a short spell on medication. Then it happened again.

Around five years ago I suffered another, more severe, spell of depression. This time I was suicidal, although I wouldn’t admit it to anyone. I think the doctor figured it out, and she talked to me about lots of things other than why I felt the way I did. She realised that my one channel of escape was my photography. At the time, creativity was the last thing I felt capable of. But, she also realised I had a hard streak, a defiant tenacity that surfaced, sometimes in anger, and sadly often in alcohol.

She saw I needed a direction, and she challenged me. She suggested that even a “professional photographer” couldn’t come up with a decent image every day.  I argued, that they could. I believed I could. The challenge was set.

Of course, she probably didn’t quite understand quite how tenacious I can be, or how determined (read also as ‘bloody minded’). I didn’t just decide to come up with one decent image a day, but to come up with one decent image a day EVERYDAY, for A YEAR.

I started on New Years Day, at dawn. And I took three photos;

They weren’t very good and I didn’t even have a decent camera at the time. I’d been depressed now for several months and I’d lost pretty much everything; work, money, I’d hocked my equipment, I sold my self esteem.

At the time I decided to do this, I didn’t actually realise how difficult this would be. It wasn’t difficult to come up with an image, but to come up with a new image, every day, when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and cry was bloody hard work. But, it did something for my depression; it made me get out of bed and get off my arse. It made me get outside in the fresh air, sometimes in the pouring rain, and do something.

My depression lifted, eventually, around four months after I first contemplated my suicide and realised I needed help. Medication was a part of it, a very necessary part of it, and regular conversations with my GP helped no end. Support from my friends, some who really understood because they’d been in their own hells, helped too. But the thing that I think made such a huge difference, to me, was getting out there with my camera and taking photos. I treated every day as an assignment, as if someone were going to be paying me to get the shot. It was hard, and I didn’t always feel like it, and sometimes I would rage against myself, my friends, and inwardly at the whole world. But I got out there and I took my photos. I did it with a cold, I even managed a photo with flu taken in the kitchen whilst trying desperately not to cough and then I threw up.

I couldn’t work at the time, nobody would have employed me the state I was in, but it helped me to think that one day they might. It helped me to think that what I was doing would be seen by other people so I made an online blog, and I published my photos of the day, each day, and every day. I didn’t have the money to go very far, so many of my images were based on the area in which I was living at the time and I think that’s partly why I ended up with a small but quite dedicated local following.

The photos that I took during this period weren’t very good, and looking back now I can actually see my periods of lowest mood from the images I shot. Some are very dark, and very sad. Some are angry and raging against the injustices I felt in the world, my little world or the bigger one. Some are just boring photos that I took to get the job over with. Some make me chuckle.

And just some of those images are still in my portfolio today.

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Looking back on them now whilst I can see my depression, or the effect it was having on me at times, I am also reminded that actually I am a damned fine photographer.

My depression is always with me, always lurking around somewhere waiting. I do not hide from it, and I do not pretend it isn’t there. Some days, even just this week, I want to stop the world and get off, to hide in the closet and never come out again. Some days I get up feeling inspired, then it sort of just…goes down hill from there. Whatever I am feeling though, I know I can channel some it into my photography. The results may not be publishable, and I might even delete the whole damn lot, but I know that going out and creating something works more times than it does not. Some times going out isn’t possible, but that doesn’t matter either.

I would say, because of the audience this site has, that I have never let a client down, and I never will. Not if it’s in my control, even when my depression isn’t. I have never not turned up on a job and I have no intention of starting now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to get out of my pit and actually do it, but I do it, always.

When I am shooting for myself, or just shooting as a prelude or prospect, then some days the creative juices flow, and some days they don’t. Some days I can write from 4am until 4am the next day and other days the words won’t come out at all. But it doesn’t really matter, they’re only words and photographs anyway. They aren’t going to determine the future of anyones life but mine. And some days that doesn’t seem to mean much either.

Thank you for listening.

Blythe

 

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A birding walk: Cummingston – Burghead – Hopeman (with a Nikon P900)

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The forecast was for sunny spells, not sunny spells and showers. Arriving at Cummingston (marked Car Park on the map above) it was properly raining, but ten minutes sat in the car watching it bouncing off the bonnet and it had stopped. Twenty minutes into the walk towards Burghead and the sun was trying to come out.

This was to be a funny walk in some ways, because instead of going out and back, we were going from the middle to one end, then back to the middle, then off to the other end. The reason for this? Well, this was where I knew the car parking, toilets, and access to the old disused railway line actually was. So, that was where we started. The accidental benefit if this is that we also knew there was a toilet there which would provide another opportunity thus mid-way, and the walk could also then be cut short if the weather deteriorated. Thankfully, it didn’t.

I had been to this spot before, for a quick recce of the route, but the weather wasn’t conducive to the shots I wanted at the time, so I planned to return and combine a bird walk, with a dog walk, with a photo walk. I would be experimenting with the Nikon P900 as a documentary camera at the same time. As much as I would like a proper long lens for my Fuji XT-2, I simply don’t want to pay £1,500 for a lens that I also don’t really want to have to carry. I think I am getting to point where I have realised that I take far more photos, and far better photos, if I am not bogged down with loads of stuff. The Nikon P900 takes you from the 35mm equivalent of 24mm to whopping 2000mm, in one camera. It also features GPS to record your shots (hence the map up above, and also enables you to capture birds and wildlife, as well as landscapes and scenes, all in one camera. Or so it promises on the advertising…

I had bought it for birding, but I wanted to see if it could do more than that and if I would still be happy with the result.

As this was also a bird walk, I had taken my binoculars with me and within moments of getting onto the main path, with a view of the shore, I had spotted the first ID confusion bird of the day.

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A long way out it would have been impossible to get a clear photograph of it without the P900, and so I was happy with this somewhat uninteresting shot as a means of later identifying the eclipse male eider duck. I couldn’t see as much detail with my excellent Minox 8x binoculars as I could later see, at home, on my screen with the images from the camera. The bird would have remained unidentified without this shot, and so already I had found a reason to be pleased I took the P900.

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I had started to envision using this camera for documentary photography for my Detritus project, so I wanted to see how well it would cope at the wider end. I was very happy with the camera for bird photography, but would it, with its tiny sensor, still give me the details I require for a more ambitious project? I have had images from it accepted to stock agencies, but there is little room for additional cropping, which means you have to really concentrate on getting the composition right in-camera, because you can’t really change it and still maintain a large enough file, with sufficient data, later on.

The Fuji XT-2 gives me files in the 15MP+ range to the 6MP+ range of the P900, as a rough guideline. Agencies need a minimum of 5MP, so there isn’t a lot to play with from the Nikon. This means making firm decisions at the time of shooting, like we did with film to an extent, and I actually like having to work like this. It makes you really take care and consideration when shooting if the room for error is so very small.

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My Detritus project, so far shot exclusively on the Fuji XT-2, is about the impact of man’s waste on the natural environment of Scotland and the detrimental effect it has on the scenery and as a threat to the tourism industry. I will be travelling around some of the most scenic and best loved locations and showing them, warts and all, rather than polishing them up to the ideal images we know and love of Scotland. This project will require a lot of travel and a lot of walking to remote locations, and thus if I can find a way to reduce what I need to carry to a bare minimum whilst ensuring that I won’t then regret it or be limited on arrival at a location by this, there will be a lot of incentives and benefits to carrying just the Nikon.

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Another part of this walk today was to capture some images of the birds found around the Moray Coast, and for that the Nikon P900 would be perfect. It enables you to get very close shots of the birds without disturbing them, and impacting on their behaviour. I am very interested in birds responses to their environment rather than just portraits, and being able to observe without impacting on that is very important for accurate documentary photography. Birds are easily disturbed and this effects their behaviour, so being able to photograph them without this is very important to the birds but also to me.

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The coastline around Moray is spectacular in many places, allowing you to enjoy the geology, geography, and still often feel like you are alone, even on a busy summer weekend. The weather was still clearing and the view across the whole of the Firth to the far north coast breathtaking. But it wasn’t long before we came across some more detritus of us humans and our working of the north sea.

I was very pleased to be able to document this at the same time as being able to get the wildlife shots, whilst still carrying only one light weight camera. In practice and operating it was living up to my hopes, although I do hate that the buttons and dials move far too easily, especially compared to the Fuji, which are stiffer and lockable. This is only a problem if you don’t double check before you fire off the shutter – and sometimes, when birds and wildlife are involved you don’t have time to check and so it can be annoying.

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We had set off from the car park in the direction of Burghead and just as we got to St. Aethan’s (or Aidan’s) Well, I was delighted to spot two Stonechat. This one was obliging for a couple of shots only.

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It is claimed that the water from the well has healing powers, but whatever it has or hasn’t got going for it, Patches wasn’t touching it.

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Having declined a drink from the bowl provided at the well, he was more than happy to have some good old tap water from the Sigg bottle along with me instead.

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As we approached Burghead I was very happy to find this Linnet on the rocks. It would appear they have developed a way of opening the small limpets that cling to the rocks, or otherwise they are getting something in the rocks that makes it worth the effort.

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I like to photograph bird behaviour, even if I don’t fully understand at the time what the bird might be doing. Although I much prefer to shoot stills than moving images, I do like my subjects to have motion and to be engaged in doing something.

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As we came into Burghead the rocks change and the famous carbuncle homes into view…

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It provides a lot of work, of course, but it isn’t half ugly to look at. Coming at it from any angle you can’t fail to spot it, but from this angle it dominated the whole of the village. Reaching the edge of the village it was time to turn around and walk back past Cummingston and head for Hopeman.

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I was pleased again to see another three Linnets as these were first I had seen this year and in my first in this area.

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I was delighted to be able to photograph the small gatherings of wading birds on the shore from the path, again without disturbing them, and delighted to find Redshanks, Turnstones, and even a Knot amongst the larger Oystercatchers.

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Having successfully documented the detritus, and the wider scene, it felt natural to also be able to capture images of the wildlife and the birds in particular. The sun was shining through the clouds now and picking out the plumage of the birds made for some lovely images, especially with the surf breaking in the background thus confirming the location whilst enabling a relative close-up of the birds.

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We went down into Hopeman and found our way through the houses to the harbour, where a small but interesting gallery has the added advantage of serving tea, coffee, ice creams, biscuits, and cans of cold pop. Hopeman also has easily accessible and very nice toilets, at the harbour, which enabled us to refuel and refresh before heading back to Cummingston again, and the picking up the car.

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The path follows the old railway and so it’s easy and accessible for all abilities, although some sections are small short gravelled rather than tarmac, and getting up and down to the car parks can be a bit interesting at some points. The route is part of the Moray Coastal Trail which runs all the way to Inverness, and is a designated cycle route as well as a path for walking and recreation. There are facilities at various points along its length and it also goes past or through some campsite for those wishing to tackle its full length. More details can be found here.

ST0RM-0313The side of the path host a number of interesting plants and an abundance of insects. The bees were making light work of these flowers, which is good to see given how much trouble bees are in, nationally and globally.

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As we reached Cummingston of the third and final time, I took a route off from the main path to examine the caves and sea stacks, which attract climbers as much as they do the wildlife.

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Again, it wasn’t hard to find more detritus from man’s long love affair with the sea. I do not wish to think about the trouble that this rope could cause to our wildlife, and tails of entangled whales, seals, and even dolphins are sadly becoming more and more common around the globe.

The walk was extremely pleasant an undertaking, and whilst it is not long in distance there is plenty to see all the way along the route. With birdwatching, dog walking, photography, and just general exercise and interest all combined, and the tea stop of course, we were out for much of the day. I would certainly take the route again, and with Patches snoring gently in my office, I am also now delighted with the results form the Nikon and look forward to using it again for more than just birding.